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San Francisco DA Candidate Chesa Boudin Puts Criminal Justice Reform Front and Center

Chesa Boudin stands out among the candidates for the 2019 district attorney race in San Francisco. Boudin, a deputy public defender, helped to lead efforts to reform the cash bail system and has earned support from progressives.

He hopes to see San Francisco become a leader in fixing the nation’s criminal justice system. “I want to break the cycle of incarceration and I want to do that by focusing on the roots of crime,” Boudin told

He brings an inside view of criminal justice to his candidacy. He is the son of former activists with the Weather Underground and has been “visiting prisons for as long as I can remember.” His parents were convicted under the New York felony murder rule in a 1981 attempted Brink’s armored car robbery during which two police officers and a security guard died. His mother Kathy Boudin served over 22 years; his father, David Gilbert, remains incarcerated.

Boudin was adopted by one-time members of the organization and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, earning two master’s degrees at Oxford University. He is a Yale Law School graduate, led student opposition to the war in Iraq, and was a clerk for federal judges. He joined the San Francisco public defender’s office in 2012 and is on the boards of the nonprofits Civil Rights Corps and Restore Justice. He has also written for Prison Legal News.

In January, he announced his 2019 candidacy for district attorney with a call for a safer, more humane community with “equal justice” for everyone. 

Boudin also hopes to restore trust in the office, which has been under fire for not filing charges in several high-profile fatal police shootings.

“As district attorney, I would seek to do everything in my power to make my policies and procedures transparent,” he told “I’d also form an advisory board made up of members of all of San Francisco’s communities to help inform the policy-making process at the district attorney’s office.”

At 38, Boudin has handled more than 300 felony cases. “I work in courthouses, in the community, and in our jails and prisons,” he writes. “I know the men and women who are committing crimes in our city, and what drives their behavior and how to change it. I work with police and probation officers, prosecutors, judges, and the community members who are impacted by crime and the broken justice system.”

He worked with other attorneys to develop a litigation strategy to challenge the city’s inequitable money bail system.  “Money bail as it’s currently constituted punishes poverty and too often results in coerced guilty pleas from those who can’t get out of jail any other way,” he wrote in the Los Angeles Times with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

In January, the “First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled money bail unconstitutional because the system did not factor in a defendant’s ability to pay,” reports.

Boudin also is focused on immigration. He initiated the creation of a “special immigration unit to ensure that every resident of our city, documented or undocumented, receives full human rights and is not turned over to ICE and deportation.”

Looking ahead, he has a plan to reduce recidivism and mass incarceration. “We cannot continue a system where more than two-thirds of people convicted of a crime re-offend within three years,” he writes.

Boudin told that courts are spending a lot of wasted time on “victimless crimes” and should focus more on serious ones. “We need to prioritize crimes like sexual assaults,” he said.

“He wants to stop the practice of simply arresting people, holding them for several days (which may be enough to cause a job loss) and then releasing them, ‘often in the middle of the night, from jail with no support system,’” reports

He also favors “never charging a juvenile as an adult, and never seeking life-without-parole for a juvenile.”

The election is set for November 5, 2019, and Boudin challengers as of press time included Suzy Loftus, a former prosecutor and current Sheriff’s Department legal counsel; Leif Dautch, a state deputy attorney general; former city police commissioner Joseph Alioto Veronese; and veteran prosecutor Nancy Tung. Incumbent George Gascon said in October that he would not seek re-election, making this the first wide-open race in decades. 



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